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A Missionary’s
Wife
Ellen Ayer was born in Leicester in 1843 daughter of Joseph Ayer a printer, and Martha Perkins. Ellen married Benjamin Berkley Turnock, who like his father became a Methodist Minster. He had studied at Queens College, Belfast and was awarded a MA in 1862 and a BA in classics in 1867.
Ellen and Benjamin were married in September qtr 1868 and in November of that year they arrived in Tientsin, Hopeh, China, where Benjamin was to train Chinese preachers to be missionaries, he also worked on a circuit with other Missionaries, one of these was John Innocent, whose work was documented in the book John Innocent : A Story of Mission Work in North China by George T Candlin in 1909. Click here to read the book online, you can use the search at the top of the screen to find the passages relating to Benjamin & Ellen.
Their life in China did not go as they expected, the living conditions were very basic and life was very hard, but in April 1869 Ellen gave birth to a son who they named Benjamin Berkley after his father. He sadly died in June the following year shortly before the Tientsin Massacre. Unrest between the local Chinese and the French Catholic Church had come to a head and the Chinese stormed the French Consulate and Cathedral setting fire to the latter, they then attacked an orphanage run by French nuns, and burnt down British & American Churches, when the rioting was over 60 people were dead, including 10 nuns, 2 French Consular officials and about 40 Chinese Christians.
Benjamin suffered from ill health throughout his time in China, he had a re-occurring throat condition, which doctors said was being made worse by the climate. In July 1871 the house that Ellen & Benjamin lived in was washed away when the river burst its bank in heavy rain, and this was the last straw and they decided to return to England, according to the book on John Innocent they left Tientsin on 30th August 1871, however GRO Consular Indices show that a second child Berkley Ayer Turnock was born in Tientsin in 1872.
Back in England Benjamin became the Minster at Bethsda, Elland, and daughter Charlotte was born here in 1874, by 1879 he was working as a Minister for the South Circuit, in Sheffield. In October 1879 he suffered a haemorrhage of the lungs, and never fully recovered, he died in January 1880 aged 36.
Ellen's life was struck by tragedy again five months later when Berkley died aged 8. Ellen and Charlotte moved to Loughborough to live with her mother, and later, Charlotte taught at a local Grammar school, but again there was to be no happy ending and Charlotte died in 1898 aged just 24.
Ellen never remarried and continued to live in Loughborough, until the last few years of her life when she moved to Leeds to live with two of her sister Fanny's daughters, Nellie & May Claypoole, she died in 1926.
This picture of Ellen was taken about 1913.